ABCs OF THE STATE’S ROLE IN RADIATION PREPAREDNESS
Ten percent of the electricity used in Texas is provided by nuclear power plants near Bay City and Fort Worth. The federal Pantex facility north of Amarillo is charged with maintaining the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. Radioactive waste shipments cross Texas on a regular basis. The Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of State Health Services have complementary and supporting roles when it comes to planning and responding to incidents or emergencies involving radiation.
What are the functions of the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of State Health Services involving nuclear plants and radiation? TDEM is responsible for strategic level “all hazards” planning that includes nuclear and radiological events and incidents. TDEM Radiological Planners assist local jurisdictions around nuclear power plants with the development and maintenance of their emergency management planning, organizing, equipment, training, exercises and operational support. TDEM also provides strategic-level planning information concerning the roles and responsibilities of lead and supporting state agencies that would be involved with a radiological or nuclear incident.
The lead agency for operational radiation response is the Texas Department of State Health Services. That means DSHS has the responsibility at the operational level with planning and response to incidents such as a radiation leak from a power plant caused by a natural disaster, operational error or deliberate attack. Numerous state and federal agencies, including TDEM and DSHS, would respond in the event of such an incident. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would handle responsibilities at the actual site of the plant, with DSHS leading emergency response in areas around the plant.
What specifically does DSHS do during a nuclear incident?
Generally speaking, DSHS would coordinate emergency response at the state level, aimed at protecting the public heath. That includes performing sampling outside of plant property and making recommendations on evacuation and other protective actions to local authorities. DSHS does not regulate the plants and does not respond within plant boundaries. In addition to emergency response, the agency also registers devices that contain radioactive materials or that emit radiation. This includes certain industrial equipment along with x-rays and other medical devices. DSHS maintains links on its Web site for first responders who may be interested in comprehensive radiological emergency preparedness instruction.
What is the “WIPP” program and how is TDEM involved?
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, program is a Department of Energy program for transporting and disposing the nation’s defense related transuranic radioactive waste. Transuranic waste is primarily produced from recycling spent nuclear fuel, or in the case of WIPP, from using plutonium to fabricate nuclear weapons. TDEM is the appointed state agency responsible for monitoring WIPP shipments in the computer based U.S. Department of Energy Transportation Tracking and Communications System, or TRANSCOM, as they transit the state. TDEM also reports issues and coordinates response in the event an issue arises involving a WIPP shipment while in the state. Learn more about WIPP by visiting the Department of Energy’s WIPP Web site.
How does TDEM interface with PANTEX?
The Pantex Plant in Amarillo is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility. It is currently managed by Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Pantex, LLC – or B&W Pantex. B&W Pantex is responsible for the plant’s operations involving nuclear weapons, plutonium pit storage, high explosives, engineering, safety, security, facilities management, quality, environmental protection and general administration. TDEM employs a radiological planner who is assigned to the plant. The TDEM planner assists local jurisdiction emergency management coordinators with development of “all hazards” plans, emphasizing nuclear and radiological preparedness. http://www.pantex.com/
How do we interface with private companies owning nuclear plants?
TDEM works with the nuclear power plant planners employed at the Texas Department of State Health Services and the power plant radiological planners to support local jurisdictions as they develop and maintain plans for dealing with any type of emergency at one of the two facilities in Texas. TDEM also interfaces with FEMA Region VI Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) planners to meet state requirements for nuclear and radiological preparedness.
Where can interested persons find resources to learn more?
Front Page Photo: Shay Christian, left, a DSHS environmental specialist and X-ray inspector in the Panhandle, holds out paperwork being checked for radiation by health physicist Jerry Cogburn, manager of the Mammography Inspections Group, during an exercise near Comanche Peak. Behind them is Angela Slupe, a DSHS environmental specialist. Photo courtesy of DSHS.